People wait to enter a shop near Dam square in Amsterdam. SIPA USA/PA Images

'The Netherlands will close for five weeks': Dutch Prime Minister announces strict new lockdown

The decision from Mark Rutte comes amid a surge of cases in the Netherlands.

THE NETHERLANDS IS to go into its strictest lockdown since the coronavirus pandemic began, with schools and non-essential shops to shut for around five weeks over the Christmas period, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said this evening.

Protesters could be heard whistling and shouting outside Rutte’s office as he said in a televised address to the nation that action was needed to stem a surge in Covid-19 cases.

“The Netherlands will close for five weeks,” said Rutte. “We’re not dealing with a simple flu like the people behind us think,” he added in a reference ot the noisy demonstrators.

All shops in the Netherlands except essential outlets like supermarkets, food stores and pharmacists must shut from Tuesday until January 19, while schools will close from Wednesday, he added.

People were advised to stay at home and can have a maximum of two guests a day, except for Christmas Day when they may have three, Rutte said.

Museums, zoos, cinemas and gyms must also close, the prime minister added.

But cannabis “coffeeshops” and restaurants can both stay open for takeaway service, he said.

“We need to bite this very sour apple before things get better. And yes they will get better. There will come a time when coronavirus will be behind us, when our lives will be normal again,” Rutte said.

“It won’t be now, or in a week, or a month. But with the vaccine, 2021 will indeed be a year of hope and of light at the end of the tunnel.”

The Dutch went into an “intelligent lockdown” in March during which schools shut down but shops stayed open, meaning that the new measures are the toughest since the start of the pandemic.

Until recently the Netherlands had some of the most lax virus measures in Europe but has struggled badly with the second and third wave of the disease.

The number of infections in the Netherlands is nearing 10,000 a day while the overall death toll during the pandemic passed 10,000 at the weekend.

Reflecting the gravity of the situation, it was Rutte’s first address to the nation on television since March, as he normally has more informal press conferences.

“When I gave my first televised address I really hoped it would be the last. But unfortunately I must once again speak to you in this way,” he said.

Rutte also postponed a planned meeting today with Belgian counterpart Alexander De Croo “in connection with recent developments around Covid-19″.

The Dutch measures come after neighbouring Germany announced it would go into a partial lockdown from Wednesday as it battles an “exponential growth” in coronavirus infections.

Rutte said he would ask neighbouring countries to “discourage travel to the Netherlands”, while the Dutch government recommended against all travel abroad.

© AFP 2020

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